As a fan of over 45 years I was eager to tackle this particular review, but I found that I had to try to tamp down my memories of the original quartet to a certain extent. I wanted to judge this album on its own merit, rather than try to compare it to those of the legendary original group. Besides, it would be like comparing apples and oranges — or maybe it would be more accurate to say tangerines and oranges. Similar, but possessed of a different shape and flavor.
This 2 CD set on the Concord label is a compilation of songs pulled from Brubeck’s many albums, and as the title says, are just the “quartet”. (There is one exception — more later about that.) This means that albums from any of Dave’s other size groups – or his solo works – were not included.
CD1 is filled with selections from Concord recordings made from 1979 to 1987 and CD2 contains tunes from Telarc albums generated from 1993 to 2004. That’s a couple of rich veins to mine, and the result is an opportunity to hear what Mr. Brubeck was doing musically in two different periods of his long, outstanding career.
On the first disc, from the earlier period, the personnel performing with Brubeck include his son Chris on bass or trombone, Butch Miles or Randy Jones on drums, and either Jerry Bergonzi on tenor sax or Bill Smith on clarinet. The mix of songs is varied, which is not surprising given the fact that they’re pulled from a number of different albums.
The quartet of the late seventies and early eighties had changed a lot from the original group, and nothing illustrated that more clearly than the fact that the lyrical alto sax of Paul Desmond had been mostly replaced by Bergonzi’s tenor interpretations, which often showed bebop influences. It starts immediately on the first cut, “Yesterdays”, but if you’re not a huge fan of bebop don’t be discouraged, because the song shifts gears several times. Overall it’s a good listen, but I didn’t enjoy it quite as much as the next, a delightful song with a calypso beat but a misleading title, called “Symphony”. If you are a fan of bebop, try “Dizzy’s Dream”, which Dave wrote as a tribute to Gillespie, who toured with Dave and Stan Getz for a while in the eighties.
Other tunes, with Bergonzi’s tenor replaced as lead by clarinetist Smith, are more reminiscent of the early Brubeck/Desmond sound. (Oops — I promised I wouldn’t compare them. Oh well.) Those include Smith’s strong work on a haunting “Koto Song”, and a deliciously bouncy piece called “Blue Lake Tahoe”. Another enjoyable cut was Fats Waller’s “Black And Blue”, which features outstanding work on the trombone by Chris Brubeck. The last cut on the disc is yet another version of Dave’s signature tune, “Take Five”, but with some notable differences. It was recorded in front of a Moscow audience and Dave begins one of his solos with a theme from Shostkovich, who was an inspiration of his, but it was also a crowd-pleasing move. Smith’s clarinet fills in for Desmond’s sax, starting softly and building, and makes for a different but pleasing sound.
The second disc, from the later period, shows some changes in personnel, with Brubeck joined by Bobby Militello on alto sax, Jack Six or Michael Moore on bass, and Randy Jones still around on drums. It opens with a lively version of “Cherokee” that quickly makes the point that Militello is not trying to be Desmond — in fact, he sounds closer to Charlie Parker. The same could be said about “
Cassandra,” but “The Things You Never Remember” features a softer, more lyrical style to his playing, although the song itself is a little sleepy. If you’re interested in new takes on old songs, “I’ve Got Rhythm” fills the bill, with Brubeck jumping it off traditionally and Militello taking over for an extended funky solo stint. And I’m always a sucker for songs with a latin touch, so I really enjoyed “Day After Day”, in which the sax is again softened and subdued.
The one exception to the “quartet only” restriction on the album is the last cut on this disc, a song that changes the group to a sextet by adding Bill Smith on clarinet and Chris Brubeck on bass trombone. It’s called “River, Stay ‘Way From My Door”.
Overall, this 2 CD album (20 songs total) provides a rich and varied sampling of the latter stages of a jazz legend’s career.